Electric Motorcycles: More than We Can Use?


There has been some interesting news on the electric motorcycle front recently. Last week, electric motorcycle start-up, Brammo, announced a new model, the Enertia Plus. The “Plus” represents another 40 miles of range, giving the motorcycle a total of an 80 mile range thanks to a battery pack that goes from 3 kWh to 6 kWh in the Enertia Plus. According to Brammo, they do this without adding any weight to vehicle, which may be the most interesting technical accomplishment. Brammo now has a line of three models, the Enertia, Enertia Plus, and Empulse (a 100+mph and 100 mile range bike).

A few days before Brammo’s announcement, Zongshen announced they will field the first manufacturer team for the TTXGP, the electric motorcycle grand prix circuit. Many in the U.S. may not be familiar with Zongshen, but they are one of the largest motorcycle manufacturers in the world. They currently manufacture motorcycles and scooters both under their own brand, as well as for Piaggio and Harley Davidson. Zongshen has a division in America and is working on their own dealer network. In addition to their own electric motorcycle, they have been trying to become a major stakeholder in Mission Motors, an electric motorcycle start-up from California.

The distribution of electric motorcycles continues to be a major challenge. Zongshen’s electric motorcycle is not yet available in the U.S. However, if they can get a dealer network established, it’s not hard to believe that they will get the 2011 electric motorcycle. Brammo is working with selected Best Buy stores to act as dealers. Other brands, such as Zero Motorcycles, are working with independent dealers. Distribution aside, there is the question of demand as well. According to webBikeWorld, sales of new traditional gas powered motorcycles have fallen about 15 percent in the first half of 2010 (240,260 vehicles sold in Q1 and Q2) compared to the first half of 2009. With sales falling for traditional motorcycles, there is no evidence that electric motorcycles have made significant gains. Early this year Pike Research estimated that the U.S. market for electric motorcycles will be about 3,600 units in 2011. These sales will likely be those who are eager for environmental transportation and are motorcycle enthusiasts.

With such a small market, the seven to eight different manufacturers of e-motorcycles may find that there is not enough demand to go around. This raises difficult questions for the e-motorcycle industry: As recharging infrastructure grows for electric cars in the next couple years, will demand for electric motorcycles follow? Will technology catch up such that electric motorcycles will be competitively shopped with gas powered bikes? (We aren’t there at the moment.) The bottom line is whether manufacturers that want a piece of the small U.S. e-motorcycle market are either profitable enough or specialized enough to be sustained over the next several years until demand grows to meet the growing supply.

As an analyst for Pike Research, Dave Hurst studies emerging markets in electric transportation.

Article appearing courtesy Matter Network.



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